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Medbh McGuckian

1950–

Born on August 12, 1950 in Belfast, Medbh McGuckian started writing poetry as a young child and wrote often in adolescence. She attended Queen's University in Belfast, where she befriended poets Paul Muldoon, Ciaran Carson and Seamus Heaney, and earned her BA and MA in English.

Her first publications, Single Ladies: Sixteen Poems and Portrait of Joanna, appeared in pamphlets by Interim Press in 1980. McGuckian proceeded to work on several collaborative projects, and her first major collection, The Flower Master, was published in 1982.

McGuckian's publications in the U.S. include On Ballycastle Beach (1988), Marconi's Cottage (1992), Captain Lavender (1995), Shelmalier (1998), The Soliders of the Year II (2002), The Book of the Angel (2004), The Currach Requires no Harbours (2007), and My Love Has Fared Inland (2010), all by Wake Forest University Press. A volume of McGuckian's selected poems was published in 1997.

She has won numerous awards, including an Ireland Arts Council Award, the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature, the Cheltenham Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize. She was also the first woman to hold the Writer-in-Residence position at Queen's University.

McGuckian currently lives in Belfast with her husband and children, and is a professor of English at Queen's University.

Medbh McGuckian

By This Poet

3

Love Affair with Firearms

From behind the moon boys' graves
bleed endlessly; from photograph
to browning photograph they blacken
headlines, stranded outside of time
at the story's frigid edge.

Though they are long buried 
in French soil, we are still speaking
of trenches, of who rose, who fell,
who merely hung on. The morning drills
secretly, like an element that absorbs.

We are right back where we were
before the world turned over,
the dreary steeples of Fermanagh and Tyrone
are all that Sunday means. Their North
was not 'The North that never was'.

Artemis, protector of virgins, shovels up
fresh pain with the newly-wed
long-stemmed roses, pressing two worlds
like a wedding kiss upon another Margaret:
lip-Irish and an old family ring.

It's like asking for grey
when that colour is not recognised,
or changes colour from friend to friend.
I track the muse through subwoods, curse
the roads, but cannot write the kiss.

Garden Homage

Three windows are at work here, sophisticated
spaces against the day, against the light.
The sky looks as if it has been added later
to a glimpsed world as nobody saw it.

Small gaps of awkwardness between overlapping leaves
bring their time to us, as we our time
to them. The hand alone is amazing,
the skull and the owner’s hand holding it,

together on a page for fifty years,
with the earliest smile. A rope vase
of flowers returns the angels
to the ground, that still beautiful brown.

Painting by Moonlight

It was a bright inviting, freely formed, 
though I suppose it was I who brightened,
with an internal scattering of light,
as though weather maps were more real
than the breath of autumn. 

The low colourfulness
of the broken and dying leaves
was no embrittlement
to every decided colour on the sunlighted grass
and the warm-hued wood of his door. 

But with the dust descending
in the glaring white gap
my backbone pulped and I closed up
like a concertina. 

His tongue was hushed as Christ's lips
or once-red grapes permitting
each touch to spread only
when the turn of the violet comes.

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